from the Resurrection
Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:12-19, Matthew 28:16-20; John 11:25-17
Dr. S. Lewis Johnson, Jr. is a Bible teacher at Believers Chapel, Dallas, Texas. In this Christ-exalting and comforting article, he lends personal emphasis on what the resurrection of Christ means to him.
My subject might just as well be entitled, “What the Resurrection Means to Me,” for it is essentially an attempt to lay stress on some of the more personal comforts that are mine when I think of the glorious event the Christian Church celebrates on Easter Sunday. I hasten to point out that the consolation of the resurrection is a very broad subject, even when the more experiential aspects only are covered. And, although I am an old man, there are new and refreshing thoughts that come to me frequently when I meditate upon the benefits derived from a Savior who lives after death. In this message I want to go over some of the most compelling of His gracious mercies to His own saints, mercies related to His triumphant emergence from the tomb centuries ago.
Now, in treating of the resurrection, there are several things to keep in mind. In the first place, when we use the term resurrection, we do not mean that Jesus’ spirit like a good reputation still survives in the minds of men, or that life always conquers death (which it does not). We mean by the term bodily resurrection, that is, that Jesus in bodily form rose from the dead on that Sunday morning years ago. As Professor James Denney said in his great work Jesus and the Gospel, “If we cannot speak of the bodily resurrection we should not speak of the resurrection at all.”
In the second place, resurrection in this sense is peculiar to Christianity. No resurrection has ever been claimed for Abraham, the father of Judaism, nor for Buddha, who died “with that utter passing away in which nothing whatever remains behind, “nor for Mohammed, whose tomb is annually visited by devout Mohammedans at Medina. The Buddhist has a glorious temple, in which a tooth of Budda is kept. The Moslems have a coffin in which the dust of their prophet molders. We Christians have a living Saviour.
In the third place, the denial of the resurrection is a heathen viewpoint (cf. Acts 17:32-34). The laughter of the Areopagus has been echoed down through almost twenty centuries. Plato, it is true, argued for a future life beyond this one in the Phaedo, but his views were contrary to the doctrine of the resurrection of the body. For him, as for others, the body is the prison in which the soul is kept and, therefore, the doctrine of the resurrection of the body meant a return of the soul to the prison of the body. A form of denial is also found within the professing Christian body, and Paul condemns one of its manifestations in 2 Timothy 2:18.
There are many things that are implicit and explicit in the bodily resurrection doctrine, such as life after death, the victory of the Lord over the forces of evil, the final judgment and others. How can we trust the love and power of God, if there is no resurrection of the only good man who ever lived? How can we affirm a moral universe, if Jesus, the Holy One, lived only to perish forever? The truth of the resurrection is the comforting assurance that God’s enterprise, as set forth in Scripture, will ultimately succeed and flourish in the earth. Easter is the consoling interpretation of Good Friday.
The resurrection means all of these things, but in this message I want to expound in some detail several truths related to this subject, which I particularly appreciate. It is to this that I now turn.
The Resurrection Means the Assurance of the Forgiveness of Sins
The denial of Christ’s resurrection (1 Cor. 15:12, 13, 16). The Apostle Paul, boldly proclaiming the certainty of the resurrection of the body in 1 Corinthians 15:1-34, points out that there are three consequences of the denial of the resurrection of the body. The first is the denial of Christ’s resurrection. His argument is plain: if Christ, a genuine man, has been raised, then there is a resurrection of the body (cf. v. 12). The reverse is true, if He has not been raised (cf. vv. 13, 16).
The emptiness of the Corinthians’ faith (1 Cor. 15:14-16). In this section the apostle says that, if there is no resurrection of Christ, then the apostles’ preaching and the Corinthians’ faith is vain. The word the apostle uses to express the consequences of no resurrection is the word kenos (AV, “vain”). It is a word that means empty, void of content. Paul means that, if Christ did not rise from the dead, then their faith has not taken hold of a real fact. It is all a mirage.
The lost estate of the Corinthians (1 Cor. 15:17-19). The third consequence of the denial of the resurrection is the conclusion that the Corinthians are lost. In Paul’s words it is, “And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain, ye are yet in your sins” (cf. v. 17). In this verse the apostle refers to their faith as “vain,” but the Greek word used here is not the same as that used in verse fourteen, although the Authorized Version renders the two different Greek words by the one English word of “vain.” The second is the word mataios, which refers to that which is void of useful aim or effect. The New American Standard Bible renders the word by “worthless.” The thought, then, is that, if Christ has not been raised, their faith has failed to secure its end, aim, or effect, i.e., the forgiveness of sins. They are still in their sins.
Now, of course, the facts are that Christ has been raised from the dead. Therefore, we are no longer in our sins; they have been forgiven.
There is one point upon which we must be clear. It is not the resurrection that secures the forgiveness of our sins. That is done by the death of the cross. As Paul says, “Who was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for (lit., on account of) our justification” (cf. Rom. 4:25; 5:9). Our sins are paid for by the blood of the cross, but the resurrection is the evidence of the acceptance of that payment by the Father. The resurrection is evidential. When we look at the cross, we think of atonement as made, but when we look at the open tomb, we think of atonement as accepted. Or, as someone has put it, “The resurrection is God’s ‘Amen’ to Jesus Christ’s ‘It is finished.’”
So, uniting our destiny with His, the Lord Jesus not merely survived death, He conquered it, and with that victory He demonstrated the success of the divine program for the forgiveness of the sins of the people of God. Our representative has been victorious for us through His blood, and the resurrection is a constant reminder that we are forgiven, freed from guilt and condemnation. What a glorious position!
The Resurrection Means the Assurance of an Ever-Present Guide
The prerogative of Jesus (Matt. 28:18). The Gospel of the King, Matthew, reaches its natural consummation in this beautiful last few sentences. The King has been raised to the rulership of the universe. The nation Israel and the nations of the Gentiles have repulsed Him, but a little flock has been gathered to Him to be His heralds throughout the final age. To support them he will cast around their feebleness the impenetrable armor of His perpetual, undying presence. It is fitting that the last glimpse of Him in the book should be from a mountain top. It began in the valley with the story of His birth and its gleams of the kingly dignity to come, and it ends on the highest summit, — a short flight to the royal throne.
In the final few verses there is a triplet of sayings with such a fulness of meaning that they guarantee the genuineness of them. Yes, it is true, never did man speak like this Man (cf. John 7:46).
After worship (cf. v. 17) comes witness, and in line with this the Lord unfolds to them the greatness of the prerogatives that are now His, “All authority is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” It is a simple statement, but majestic and inexhaustible in its claim of unrestricted universal sovereignty. Human thought and human minds lose themselves in attempting to comprehend the statement. It is Swete who said, “The field of Jesus’ authority seems to grow as his ministry advances; at the outset He has authority to forgive sins on earth; as the days pass on, we read of authority to act as the final judge of all human lives, to determine the bounds of His own life, laying it down and taking it up at pleasure; on the eve of the passion He speaks of authority given to Him over all flesh, i.e., all mankind. But none of these great claims reaches the boundless magnificence of the words “All authority is given to me in heaven and on earth.”1 Knox put it this way, “He was given heaven and earth to do what He liked with them.”
The precept of Jesus (Matt. 28:19-20a). There follows the so-called “Great Commission,” namely, “Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” This ecumenical commission is supported by the ecumenical authority given to the Lord (cf. v. 18), as the “therefore” indicates. The message is to burst national bounds and bonds and go to all nations. And how is it to be done? By going, baptizing, and teaching our Lord says. And one should notice the stress on the ministry of instruction here; it is theology that the world needs!
The promise of Jesus Messiah (Matt. 28:20b). One might respond at this point in the words of Paul, “And who is sufficient for these things?” The words that follow, according to one commentator, are the greatest conclusion to written works found in our literature. They are the great promise with which the book closes, “And, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age. Amen.” They are words that are only possible because of the bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, the second of the important things that resurrection means to me is this great truth: The resurrection is the means of assurance of our possession throughout the age of an ever-present guide. But let us look at the promise in a little more detail.
In the first place, it should be noted that the Lord Jesus said, “And, lo, I AM with you,” not “And, lo, I SHALL BE with you.” He is our companion, our ally down the course of life. He is with us in the experiences of our life at the present time, whether they be good or bad. Our great Lord does not, like some generals, remain at base headquarters in heaven, pouring over reports of what is happening upon the earth and occasionally sending forth a few encouraging words to the men in the trenches. No, He left headquarters (cf. Gal. 4:1-7) and came down to us in the front-line trenches, right down to where we live. And it is this that He does today. He is with us when we are contending with our frailties, our anxieties and our feelings of emptiness and futility. There is nothing, apart from sin, that He does not share with us.
What was the secret of the staying power of the apostles? And of the church? Was it that they in their strength took up their tasks? No, they would have returned to the secular life, just as Peter and Andrew returned to their fishing after the death and burial of the Lord Jesus.
The secret of the staying power of the church and its individuals is that Christ resumes His work after the resurrection. He picks up the thread of the program. Christians do not inherit their tasks; they share it with Him. We work on as disciples under Him, for Him, with Him, as of old. And this is made possible by the resurrection.
In the second place, the Lord speaks of His presence as “always,” that is, a permanent, ever-present one. The expression translated in the Authorized Version as “always’ is one that means literally all the days throughout. That is, He is present with us not only upon the coming of every day, but throughout all the days as they come, — a 24-hour Guide! He is with us all of the days and in all kinds of days, whether they be days of sunshine, fog, rain, shadow, or otherwise. As Jacob said, He is “the God who fed me all my life long unto this day” (Gen. 48:15) .
In the third place, the final words, “unto the end of the age,” add the capstone to the promise, making it clear that there are no limits to the startling word.
To sum up, then: By virtue of the bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus we now have a continuing ever-present Guide in the course of our spiritual lives. Now this guidance is not only for the individual (here), but also for the church (cf. Rev. 2:1). In one of our Lord’s great figures of His ever-living presence among the body of believers in this age He speaks of Himself as the One “who walketh in the midst of the seven golden lamp-stands (—the seven churches)” (cf. Rev. 2:1).
The resurrection, then, assures me and the church of His constant presence with us. What a difference this makes in our lives! In 1896, Glasgow University conferred on David Livingstone the degree of Doctor of Laws. He rose to speak in reply and was received with respectful silence. Gaunt, haggard as a result of hardships in tropical Africa, his left arm, crushed by a lion, hanging helplessly at his side, he announced his resolve to return to Africa, without misgiving and with great gladness. He added, “Would you like me to tell the thing that supported me through all the years of exile among a people whose language I could not understand, and whose attitude toward me was always uncertain and often hostile? It was this, ‘Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.’ On these words I staked everything and they never failed.” The companionship of a risen Saviour is the encouragement that supports us amid the disappointments and pleasures of life.
The Resurrection is a Measurement of the Enablement Believers Possess Today
There is a magnificent passage in Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians in which he compares the greatness of the power of God toward believers with the power manifested in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and in his ascension and session. It goes this way, “And what is the exceeding greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in that which is to come” (1:19-21).
The resurrection, then, is God’s new unit of measurement regarding that which He can and will do for the believer. In order to better comprehend what this means let us remember that the resurrection is the crowning miracle of the miracles, for it embraces in itself all the others. The Lord Jesus gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the dumb, power to palsied limbs and withered members. But have we ever realized that in His own resurrection all these were included? The eyes that were blind in death, the ears that were deaf, the limbs that were palsied received sight, hearing, and strength in one simultaneous act. Thrice dead — dead by crucifixion with pierced hands and feet, dead by the spear thrust, and dead by the temporary enswathement, which wrapped even His head and excluded breath — He nevertheless by a mighty act of God awoke, arose and emerged from the tomb with the embalming cloths about Him. And now, whenever a believer wants to know how much God is able and willing to do for him, he considers the mighty power of God as wrought in the bodily resurrection of Christ. In the Old Testament the unit of measurement of what He is able to do for His people is the deliverance of Israel from Egypt through the Red Sea (cf. Mic. 7:15).
Both measurements include three things, an exemption from death, one of the bloodstained houses and the other of God’s wrath upon sinners. There was a defiance of gravitation in the making of the waters of the Red Sea a wall about Israel, and in the ascension of Christ. And finally there was the overthrow of all foes in the Red Sea and of hostile powers in Christ’s session at the right hand of God.
The same comparison of the power extended to the believer and the power exhibited in Christ’s resurrection is found in the great benediction of Hebrews 13:20-21, where the work of sanctification being wrought out in our lives is traced to the God of peace that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus. Cf. Isa. 63:11.
Thus, the resurrection means that its mighty power is that which God offers us in the accomplishing of His will in our lives. It is a divine resource that cannot be exhausted.
The Resurrection Means Resurrection For Me and Eternal Life
There is a beautiful passage in the Gospel of John to which I should like to turn now. It is John 11:25-27, and in it the Lord Jesus speaks of Himself as the resurrection and the life and offers some encouraging words about both matters. In this connection it is always proper to remind ourselves that He is the only person qualified to answer questions that pertain to life beyond the grave, for He alone knows and has that life. He by His work on the cross and in resurrection has the giant’s head in His hands and has carried the witness of victory to the city of God.
The declaration regarding resurrection and life (John 11:25a). Coming to Bethany after the death of Lazarus, Jesus met Martha, Lazarus’ serving sister. The “sitting sister,” Mary (cf. v. 20: Luke 10:39), remained at home. When Martha came into the presence of the Lord, she complained, “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died” (cf. v. 21). The ensuing conversation produced the great interchange of John 11:25-27.
The “I am” of verse twenty-five stresses the fact that it is not simply a doctrine Martha must respond to, but also a person. And, further, the tense suggests that His declaration refers to a present fact, and not simply a future prospect. He adds “life” to “resurrection,” because the wicked also have a resurrection. “Life” is the necessary complement in this instance, since He has in mind the resurrection of believers. “Life” is both the cause and consequence of resurrection. Resurrection is one manifestation of the possession of life. In other words, what our Lord affirms is that, if one expects to have resurrection to life, then one must have His life. He alone has the life that overcomes death, and to overcome death we, too, must have that life.
The explanation of the declaration (John 11:25b-26a). The two clauses of this section amplify the declaration in the order of the words of the declaration.
The application and response (John 11:26b-27). Like a good preacher the Lord asks for a response, hoping that Martha will move from adherence to a doctrine alone to confidence and trust in it. Further, the application moves from the general to the personal; it is “believest THOU this?”
The response of Martha is a beautiful statement, but the following context indicates that, while expressing genuine faith, it was one that went beyond her own comprehension in its depth (cf. v. 39).
To sum up, the resurrection of the Lord Jesus means that those who trust in Him “shall live” also (cf. v. 25); in fact, “shall never die” (cf. v. 26). Cf. John 14:19. As George Morrison put it long ago, “Death is no journey into the obscure night where the wild beasts are crying in the dark. It is the passing for all who are in Christ into a larger and brighter room.”
Edward the Confessor cried in his last words, “Weep not. I shall not die but live; and as I leave the land of the dying I trust to see the blessings of the Lord in the land of the living.” They are the words of a vital faith.
We, therefore, have a great hope in the hope of the resurrection. We are assured of the forgiveness of sins. We have an ever-present unfailing divine Guide, both in our personal lives and in the life of the church. In His resurrection life we have the principle and pattern of the joyous life with One who has the power to still the storms, release the demons, bind up the wounds, open the graves, cancel the guilt, comfort aching hearts, and convey peace. He is the one who lives, and yet who at a point in time died for the sake of atonement. Being alive forevermore, He has the keys of death and hades, and in having them has all power. And He has offered that power to us. Finally, we look forward with great anticipation to our own resurrection and eternal life. These are some of the things that Easter means to me.
A great hope should produce a great love in response, and it does. Mr. Spurgeon’s words express my feelings accurately, “Whether a man ever went insane with love to the crucified Redeemer I do not know, but I never met such a case. If I should ever go mad, I should like it to be in that direction, and should like to bite a great many more; for what a blessed subject it would be for one to be carried away with, to become unreasonably absorbed in Christ crucified, to have gone out of your senses with faith in Jesus.”2
1 H. B. Swete, The Appearances of our Lord after the Passion (London, 1912), p. 70.
2 Spurgeon, The Treasury of the New Testament, III, 154.